Saturday, June 15, 2019

Used her up

I feel somewhat blocked lately, in writing and reading. I tell myself it's because I'm busy with work, I'm still adjusting to my (no-longer-so-new) job, basking in the joy of work that is wholly engaging. But I don't want to be that person — I know there's more to life than work. I tell myself I'm living a balanced life, but neither am I being particularly social; I'm not dating much, it just doesn't seem worth the effort at the moment.

So I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm tempted to explain that it's not you, novels, it's me — it's not the right time and place for us. But rationalizing it, taking the blame, actually makes me angry, it's such bullshit. Why should it be my fault? One novel I'm working through is fascinating really, but just so damn big — it weighs on me — and I can't be bothered to carry it on my commute. The other novel I finally finished, but it was plodding — I didn't even have the strength of character to dump it.

My reading life and my dating life are somehow merged over the last year. I am for the most part attracted to books about sex and love and joy. Because I think they will help me process the sex and love and joy in my life. But sometimes they confuse me.

Maybe sometimes I confuse them. Sometimes I date the books and read the people, and I'm not sure I'm doing either the right way. (I should've dropped the book, not the guy.) Sometimes I challenge myself in the wrong ways.

Maybe I'm just tired and need a break.


The bookstore emailed about the next bookclub meeting, but with only a week's notice, and by the time I got my hands on a copy of the book, I only had four and a half days to read it. I made it halfway in time for the discussion (but yes, I read it through to the end in the ensuing days).

I was grateful for the push to read something I wouldn't ordinarily pick up of my own accord: An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon.

It's science fiction of the generation ship variety. The ships decks reinforce the caste system; the ship is powered by slaves. The protagonist is queer and neuroatypical; Aster is also a healer.

Despite some serious social criticism and horrific violence, it's a story brimming with loving relationships beautifully described.
Aster said sister because she knew sisters could not choose to unsister themselves when their lives diverged dramatically. Friends who hated each other were no longer friends. Sisters who hated each other remained sisters, despite long silences, feuds, and deliberate misunderstandings.
The science behind the predicament of the ship is a little shaky, but this is a very rich novel in all other aspects.

Mostly it's a commentary on racism, with violence against women that's hard to stomach. One character, fathered by a lieutenant, passes as white and so he managed to climb to the position of Surgeon General and thus has privileged access to areas, people, and knowledge. But we see other characters slip between levels, whether it's using off-limit passageways, networks of family and nannying arrangements, or (essentially) black-market means.

The novel presents a very fluid perspective of gender, while integrating issues of mental illness and exploring how knowledge and history are preserved. The ship is also developing its own myths (a deep-seated sense of sin) and evolving languages on different decks.

One of the aspects I found most interesting is that while this is ostensibly occurring in the future, the ship society seem so backward. It leads me to speculate on how and why that might happen.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is very easy to read in the sense that the writing style is breezy, but it is very difficult to read for the harsh realities of its characters' living conditions. This clash woke up all my reading sensibilities.

It had the magical effect of taking me out of myself (even if it took me to some very grim places), when these days I tend to ask books to take me deeper into myself.
The bigness of her earlier mannishness was nowhere now. Short-lived. All that was left were taunts, and crack of Scar's knee, and the past swooping in, an unkindness of ghosts. Her old life had possessed her, strengthening her, but like everything, used her up and then was done.

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